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Speech by Minister for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström, at IDEA's launch of The Global State of Democracy report
15 November 2017
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Mr. Secretary General, colleagues, distinguished guests, friends of democracy,
I’m delighted to see so many people gathered here to discuss the challenges that democracy is facing today, but also the opportunities it presents.
Democracy continues to be the only alternative when it comes to giving all individuals the opportunity to influence the society they live in, as well as their own lives.
Let me therefore begin by underlining the paramount importance of democracy in Sweden’s foreign policy. Democracy, human rights and the rule of law make up a very strong entity that are mutually reinforcing, and dependent on each other.
But we must remember that democracy is not something that can be exported, it can only be supported. Democracy is a complex affair. It must include a combination of electoral principles, deliberative and participatory components, liberal rights and not least a reasonable level of equality. Only when these perspectives work together can democracy truly flourish,
This shows that democratic rights are also duties, citizens must engage and participate in civil society, media, debates, demonstrations and so on. Democracy can never grow in a society where you only contribute by voting every four or five years.
Today I wish to speak to you on democracy from three different perspectives:
1. The Swedish human rights reports and the trend of shrinking space
2. The necessity of women and youth in democracies
3. The European Union and growing populism
The reports on human rights, democracy and the rule of law on 135 countries, that the ministry of foreign affairs published earlier this year, show the dynamics behind democratic backsliding. These reports have been published before but for the first time they also include a democracy component.
In these reports we see a clear trend where a growing number of states limit the space available to civil society in various ways.
This is worrying since a vibrant and pluralistic civil society and a free media are essential for democracy.
Governments are increasingly persecuting organisations and individuals fighting for their freedoms of expression, assembly and opinion.
In some traditionally democratic countries too, we have seen backsliding from democratic governance and the space for civil society decrease. Not the least we see this among the European union members states where young - but until now stable - democracies are showing authoritarian tendencies.
According to the global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, ratings for October 2017, only two percent of the world’s population today live in a country with a completely open civic space.
Having a strong civil society is the foundation of all functioning democracies and we can see how shrinking space often coincides with a declining democracy. This can be seen in a range of countries such as Cambodia, Turkey, Poland or Venezuela.
Sweden continues to be in the forefront of fighting the causes of shrinking space. We work in the UN Security Council, the UN Human Rights Council and other UN agencies. The EU is an important player in promoting human rights issues around the world, but also among member states.
An area of positive but slow development is women’s rights.
Sweden has over the last three years had a feminist foreign policy with the aim to promote women as actors in all spheres of society. This includes increasing women’s political representation and empowerment.
As pointed out in the Global State of Democracy report, at current rates of progress, political equality between men and women will not be achieved until 2060.
That is totally unacceptable.
Madeleine Albright has once said that “development without democracy is improbable. Democracy without women is impossible.”
I could not agree more.
Gender equality is a fundamental matter of human rights, democracy and social justice. But overwhelming evidence shows that it is also a precondition for sustainable growth, welfare, peace and security. Societies where women are not thriving will not prosper.
The youth continues to be under-represented in most elected parliaments. Even though many countries have a young population they still fail in representation. This is worrisome and risks creating a gap between aging politicians, that does not take sustainable decisions for future generations, and young frustrated voters that are not represented.
I think new initiatives are necessary to guarantee youth representation. I myself come from a political party that decided to set a goal of 25 % under 35 years of age at all election lists for our latest election. I think ideas like these need to be encouraged and more widely used.
Let me raise my third and final point. Democracy in the EU is under attack from populism.
An increasing number of people today are losing confidence in conventional politics and are questioning the value of democracy.
The rise of populism, disinformation and racism we are seeing today, not least here in Europe, will test democracy’s resilience in the coming years.
We need to focus our attention to prevent further backsliding and work even harder to show the benefits of living in open free societies where democracy reigns. In this regard, we must show that democracy does not only voice the opinion of a few but guarantees decisions promoting economic growth and equal opportunities for the larger public.
Many people may rarely voice their political views but are counting on democratically elected politicians to deliver an effective government and rule of law. Decreasing inequality is essential to regain support for politicians and fighting populism, it is also one of the global development goals and thus a globally recognized priority.
The European Union has an important role to play in this regard and should lead with example.
Working for continuous dialogue on democracy is important in preventing it from backsliding. Today’s event organised by IDEA is an excellent example and contribution to that end.
IDEA’s Global State of Democracy and its indices is an instrument that will be a valuable tool for policy makers, civil society and individuals engaged in democratic development across the globe.
Therefore I would like to take this opportunity to convey my warmest congratulations to all the staff at International IDEA for producing a thorough, timely and relevant publication.
As anti-democratic forces gain foothold around the world, closer cooperation between governments, international organisations and civil society will form the basis of our defence.
Lastly, this Monday, Sweden qualified for next year’s World cup in football, but in contrast to football, democracy is not a spectator sport. It needs everyone’s participation and I encourage each and everyone in this room, and beyond, to join the game.
Thank you for listening.